Juan Pablo Villalobos
First Sentence: Some people say I’m precocious.
Some people say this book is wonderful. I’d have to agree. It comes from new publishers And Other Stories and if the rest of their list is anywhere near as good as this I think I’ll be investigating further. The narrator is Tochtli, the ten-year old son of a drug lord who lives in a palace. Tochtli’s voice is a joy to read and even more authentic than Room ‘s narrator, though I will admit to enjoying Room. Tochtli’s interests include: hats, guillotines, Japan (samurai in particular) and most importantly, Liberian Pygmy Hippopotamuses. Like Room‘s narrator, Tochtli’s entire world is his enclosed environment, only in this book it is a palace, not a tiny room. Living in this palace has shaped Tochtli completely and he can even count how many people he has actually met. And not have to count very high at that. The reason I say Tochtli’s voice is more authentic than Jack’s in Room is simply because as a reader I feel I am better able to empathise with him. I’m not sure why I find it easier to feel empathy towards the son of a drug baron but there you go. (I am not, as far as I know, the son of a criminal.) It’s just that when he speaks of gangs, and gang culture, and the importance of being a macho man and everything that goes with it, the trust, the fear of being called a faggot, your heart can’t help but break just a little bit. This child knows no other life, no other set of morals, and because of this we can’t really hold him responsible for the life he is living. He is only a child and he is filled with the same wonder any ten-year old boy is:
I think the most enigmatic and mysterious thing in the world must be a Japanese mute.
Another reason his voice is so authentic stems from the words he uses. He reuses ‘big’ words over and over again and this is one of the reasons people think he is precocious. He speaks of making corpses with orifices made from bullets, instead of just saying shooting people. At the beginning of the books he lists some of the really big words he knows; sordid, pathetic, devastating, disastrous. These four words, and the frequency with which they are used says a great deal about Tochtli and the environment he is growing up in. This is a powerful book loaded with personality and is infinitely charming. I’m glad I took a chance on it and I look forward to reading more from And Other Stories…
* * * *
Click for last sentence